The National Catholic Review

Stacie Beck’s article “Just Economics” (May 6) questions what the author sees as logical and factual inconsistencies within the “social justice agenda.” Beck claims that the expression of Catholic social teachings into which our children are being catechized is illogical, promotes irresponsible and lazy behavior, and is irrelevant to the realities of a modern market economy. But Beck misses the heart of Catholic social teaching, revealing her own logically inconsistent economic assumptions about prosperity, the market and a dislike for the idea of redistribution that drives her analysis.

This month celebrates the fiftieth anniversary of John XXIII’s landmark encyclical Pacem in Terris, which is fondly referred to as the Catholic declaration of human rights. Pacem in Terris begins, “Any well-regulated and productive association of men in society demands the acceptance of one fundamental principle: that each individual man is truly a person” (9). Thus, the very heart of Catholicism’s theological anthropology is revealed. People have value, not because they are useful to society, but because they are created in the image and likeness of God. The economy and markets exist to serve that social order, not the other way around. When the church says social justice demands access to health care and safe housing, Beck asks if that is teaching children that they are entitled to something for nothing. No, it is not. It teaches them that they have inviolable human dignity as children of God.

The goals of social justice assume a society prosperous enough to support them, says Beck. No, social justice assumes a Christian responsibility to build a social order based upon justice in which the life and dignity of every human person is respected. Grounded in the Gospel, Catholic social teaching concretely illustrates the ongoing responsibility of all Catholics and the church as an institution to actively work for the common good. What the goals of social justice do assume is that a society built upon justice can protect the dignity and encourage the participation of all its members. To evaluate the justice and morality of economic structures, we must ask what does it do to people? And how do people participate in it? In a similar vein, Pope John Paul II reiterated numerous times that markets are a means, not an end. If the modern market economy, as it exists, cannot be structured to create a social order in which this is realized—then it is the modern market economy which must be restructured, not children’s catechism books.

Rent-Seeking, which Beck notes, is the term for practices which take without contribution. Nobel Prize winning economist Joseph Stiglitz applied it to the irresponsible behavior by the financial sector before, during and after the Global Financial Crisis of 2008. Beck uses the example of “lobbying for government subsidies that redistribute income, goods, or services from one group to another” without added contribution to the common good. Her implication is that this includes social justice lobbying for redistribution through tax credits and other social protections.

From the perspective of Catholic social thought, nothing could be farther from the truth. Aside from the fact that meeting the basic needs of human persons is a contribution to the common good, these policies also are of economic benefit. Food stamps (or SNAP), unemployment insurance, and the earned income tax credit are all in some sense redistribution of wealth; however, they are also effective economic policies which spur the economy. 

If Beck is right, then the entire project of Catholic social thought is faulty. Her argument begins with a particular set of economic assumptions as foundational and not with the understanding of the human person. If one begins with the dignity of the human person and the common good, then the need for justice cannot be answered by increasing charity. Benedict reminds us in Caritas In Veritate that it is not good enough to give someone charity unless the demands of justice have been met. In Catholic social thought, it is never a time of prosperity if the basic human rights of all are not respected.

Meghan Clark, an assistant professor of theology and religious studies at St. John's University, is on the board of directors of America Press, Inc.

Comments

Greg Redford | 5/14/2013 - 3:54pm

I have been fortunate enough to attend both an ivy league business school (Columbia) and a Jesuit school of theology. Columbia does not understand itself to be educating the whole person. And, I suspect this is true of other business schools as well; in fact, I believe I can say this with confidence.

However, this is not a blemish on their achievements. Many of the business schools provide a fine to excellent education in business, finance, and management. I am certainly grateful for my education and experience at Columbia. But, it simply is not in the mandate of business schools to educate the whole person, in the sense the Jesuits would understand this, and in the sense that might be required to reform our economic system in order that it integrates principles of social justice, theoretically and operationally.

Could students in an M.B.A. program benefit from a course or two in moral philosophy that probes at the issues of ethics in a more foundational way than most traditional business ethics curriculum? Yes, absolutely. What a radical idea: M.B.A. students at Harvard, Columbia, and others, studying Plato, Aristotle, Nietzsche, and Aquinas, alongside Smith, Keynes, Modigliani, and Miller. But, if the sort of reform conceived above is to be achieved, there is a broader, more prolonged exercise of personal formation required. This kind of project can not be accomplished by a couple courses appended to a traditional business school experience. The project needs to start earlier than when students are in their late twenties and early thirties, and it needs to be a more central aspect of the education experience.

J Cosgrove | 5/14/2013 - 4:37pm

As a graduate of the Stanford Graduate School of Business, there was nothing in the courses I took that conflicted with my 16 years of Catholic education. Stanford has a long history of incorporating ethics into its curriculum and here is a link to a short post, titled "Stanford Business School Named Leader in Teaching Ethics, Corporate Social Responsibility, and Environmental Sustainability."

http://csi.gsb.stanford.edu/stanford-business-school-named-leader-in-tea...

Some of my classmates have spent a considerable amount of time and money on what could be called "social responsibility" projects. One fellow alumnus and his wife gave $100 million for the business school to establish the Institute for Innovation in Developing Economies. The new center will conduct research, coordinate courses in social entrepreneurship and design, and oversee projects worldwide to alleviate poverty.

http://online.wsj.com/article/SB1000142405297020380420457701663045107577...

I believe if you sample the graduates of all the business schools you will find a lot of similar activities and donations.

Two additional comments:

I am not sure any college education is capable of educating the whole person. My Jesuit education did not do that though I value what I was taught very much. Education is a life long process and one has to sample lots of areas, some in depth, before even approaching a well rounded education.

Second, I personally find the term "social responsibility" a misnomer and one which many hide behind for their personal political agenda. A lot of poorly thought out and executed programs come under its banner and often they harm the poor not help them.

Greg Redford | 5/14/2013 - 9:59pm

I could say the same about my experience at Columbia: there was nothing in the courses that contradicted my understanding of Catholic social teaching. And, I could say the same thing about the alumni of Columbia: there are many who are committed to some kind of socially responsible investment or philanthropy. But, the issue is not about this or that particular business school. And, in the main, it is not about whether any business school is teaching a curriculum that conflicts with Catholic social teaching. All credible business schools make an effort to include ethics as part of the curriculum.

As it has been expressed or implied in the comments from other readers of these articles, the main issue seems to be a sense that our economic models and business education are too far removed from, or insufficiently address, the fundamental values of Christ: love, peace, freedom, and justice (Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church, § 63). Values that most non-Christians would affirm as well, I think.

Poverty is a significant concern, but it is not the only concern. Moreover, alleviating poverty may reduce injustice, and it may promote a kind of peace, but, as you point out, it is far from a perfect solution. I would go further: it can not provide a total solution, even if perfectly implemented. Those fundamental values need to be embedded in the way we interact as human beings; in our boardrooms, in our offices, in our cubicles -- in all aspects of our daily living. They should not merely be a response to a crisis; they need to be lived beyond the time of crisis.

You are right, this is a life long journey. My point was to suggest these are deep, deep issues. Issues that relate to human living, and rest upon our notions of what it means to be a human being. Therefore, the fix is not in our economic or business education, although they can be a part of a solution. It requires something broader. But, it properly belongs in our education system, for all students, since we are really talking about the common good.

Joseph J Dunn | 5/2/2013 - 4:08pm

The rare sight of questions about social justice is a welcome change. As the editors wrote, "If we have done our job right, then you should find something in every issue that challenges you." Clearly, Stacey Beck has done just that in her article "Just Economics." Equally rare, at least in my few years of reading America, is Meghan J. Clark's "A Response to Just Economics." I read both articles several times. Both are interesting and thoughtful. But I fear that Clark's "Response" misses the key questions raised by Beck, and may, if I read correctly, assign to her opinions not expressed in "Just Economics." These gaps, if left unfilled, would render this rare occurrence a lost opportunity for constructive and instructive (for me, at least) dialogue.

Beck asks specific questions about the instruction our children are receiving: "Should we teach that it is immoral to collect unemployment compensation, or food stamps, or disability payments, regardless of what the law allows, if we are capable of earning our own way?" Apparently the religion text "has no hint of this principle." The encyclicals, which are carefully constructed to present authentic teaching, ("the heart of Catholic social teaching") consistently point to the responsibilities of individuals to society, and to the importance and dignity of work. Beck wonders why the religion text does not convey a message consistent with the encyclicals. It's a fair question. It does seem that teaching children that justice demands access to health care and safe housing without teaching honesty and the principle of earning our own way IS teaching that they are entitled to something for nothing.

Beck does not argue that food stamps (SNAP), unemployment insurance, and the earned income tax credit are ineffective or that they are detrimental to the economy, or that meeting basic human needs is detrimental to the common good. Beck writes clearly, "some minimal level of compulsary redistribution will be needed to take care of those who cannot be productive in an economic sense. But this is not the issue here. The issue is whether, as Catholics, we should advocate for tax and subsidy programs that go beyond a minimal safety net." In other words, should Catholics advocate for tax-supported, government-run programs that go BEYOND what is owed in justice to our fellow humans, into the realm of charity? There is no juxtaposition of charity and justice in Beck's question. It is valuable to the dialogue.

Beck's questions about the ordering of social institutions to do justice (a duty the Popes assign to the State, and therefore our duty as citizens in a democracy) are also worthy of response. "Should we not lobby our elected officials to eliminate anti-competitive regulations that keep people from getting jobs or starting companies?" This is highly pertinent, since jobs and entrepreneurial activity are paths to escaping poverty.

The last two paragraphs of Clark's "Response" leave me thinking that Clark missed some key points of Beck's article. Sadly, some Comments under both articles accuse Beck of embracing the worst elements of neoclassical economics, or the economic man theory. Nowhere does Beck insist on individual self-sufficiency to the exclusion of private charity or government programs, and she is clear that there is a role for both the State and charitable organizations in a free market system, in a country dedicated to promoting the general welfare of the people.

Thanks to both writers for their thought-provoking work, and to the editors for making the platform available.

Mike Evans | 5/1/2013 - 11:30am

I am just tired of hearing from the apologists for the uber rich and 1% who complain about entitlements and the undeserving poor. When the Lord confronts them as He promises in Matthew 25, what will they answer? That they couldn't afford to help? That all the poor were somehow cheaters? That none of the beggars deserved help?

Robert Klahn | 5/1/2013 - 7:01pm

To Mike Evans:

I concur with Eva Weber in her appreciation for your comment.

Eva Weber | 5/1/2013 - 4:09pm

Thanks Mike Evan!

How can those rich one percenters whine in a supposedly Catholic magazine, all the while help raid the safety nets we paid for? It it not just the poor, who suffer. Increasingly these rich folks are insturmantal in impoverishing the lower middle classes, who make up the majority of the population. With the influence of their millions there will be only the 98 percent of poor and 2 percnet of extremly wealthy in this nations in a few years time.

Of 150 nations, the USA has regressed into number 146 in wealth inequality. No, that is not a number I made up. In the quality and quantity of health care provided, we are number 29th, while the much maligned Canadian socialized health care system is number 6, after some European countries. Those are facts compiled in 2010, since I had no time to find the current worldwide numbers, but it is unlikly, these have changed much the past few years.
However, the recently al over the media published child mortality rates are even more shamelful.

As another commentator mentioned: We have welfare for the big corporations and deriguated banks, and capitalism for the rest.

God helps us with these greedy, profit driven, injust system. Divide and conquer is the motto

Joshua DeCuir | 5/1/2013 - 7:09pm

"How can those rich one percenters whine in a supposedly Catholic magazine, all the while help raid the safety nets we paid for?"

This is the kind of rhetoric that I think hampers the kind of dialogue that could happen here. I think any fair reading of the current fiscal situation shows that the social safety nets are being weakened by the not-so-poor old, and are taking increasingly scarce federal dollars from programs aimed at young people, such as Head Start. Unfortunately in our super-charged political environment, it seems any suggestion that this situation being adjusted means one MUST therefore be a rich "one percenter" who is whining about the undeserving poor.

Eva Weber | 5/1/2013 - 9:21pm

Social Security and Medicare, on which the maybe "not-so-poor old" are dependend, are separate trust funds,pre- paid for by those old, and are secure for 20-30 years. These prepaid funds have nothing to do with our deficit, which is caused by the tax breaks for the richest individuals and huge corporations. Therefore, neither Social Security nor Medicare are taking "increasingly scarce federal dollars from programs aimed at young people, such as Headstart.

Joshua DeCuir, get informed about the workings of our government, its agencies, trust funds, and its workings.

Joshua DeCuir | 5/2/2013 - 11:27am

"Joshua DeCuir, get informed about the workings of our government, its agencies, trust funds, and its workings."

Oh, I'm sorry, I must have read the wrong Bowles-Simpson report - you know the one formed by the President.

How condescending of a statement; have some charity towards people you disagree with.

Tim Reidy | 5/2/2013 - 12:11pm

Josh is right, Eva, please be more charitable in your comments.

Eva Weber | 5/3/2013 - 12:00am

Joshua and Tim,

How charitable are you, to simply dismiss any of my points about the undermining of the majority of working people and the retired elderly, which are being disadvantaged the past 3 decades to he point of poverty? Instead, how dare I suggest to you to get the truth and he facts?

I dare thanks to the wonderful, dedicated nuns, who instilled in me 70 years ago compassion and the courage to stand up for it.These dedicated women certainly followed the teachings of Jesus, specially the sermon on the mount of Matthew 25. Tell me, where in Just Economics is even a hint of that???

I say it again, 30 millions are out of work, (because of greedy corporations shipping jobs overseas for more profit) and not all eligible for unemployment benefits. Because of it, thousends of FAMILIES are homeless. The largest corporations are not paying taxes at all or at most 10 percent; horde billions overseas, and enrich themselves on slave laber in China.
We are number 146th in wealth distrubution; 29th in the quality and quantity of healthcare provided, an on and on and on.

After 77 years behind me, and having been a well informed acivist for social justice, I will not back down by the current campain of the high and mighty to impoverish the powerless majority of this nation even further.

Robert Klahn | 5/1/2013 - 6:59pm

Well said indeed. I especially like your knowledge of the damage "enlightened self interest economics" has done to this nation.

The economy is for people, not the other way around. I believe you have seen someone more prominent than I saying that.

Joshua DeCuir | 5/1/2013 - 10:13am

Wow. Now THIS is what I love America Magazine for - engaging voice across fields and political viewpoints. THanks!

That said, I with Tim Huegerich - while stimulating, these conversations are also painful as they tend to talk over each other. It reminds me of something Reihan Salam wrote recently about the budget battles: we’re stuck in a debate in which a federal government that spends 24 percent of GDP represents tyranny while a federal government that spends 19 percent of GDP represents a free society.

Here's hoping hearing both voices moves us down the road some.

Robert Klahn | 5/1/2013 - 7:05pm

The GW Bush federal government ran it up to 25%, and it's been coming down since then, and no republican since Nixon has maintained it below 21%. It was Clinton who brought it back down below 19%.

On that basis it seems above 21% is tyranny, and below 21% is freedom. Obama has just not reached it yet.

J Cosgrove | 4/30/2013 - 9:40pm

I have re-read the Stacie Beck article for the third time and can find no fault with it. Dr. Beck asks several questions and believes the answers points to some obvious choices. I agree. Ms. Clark apparently does not but is very vague on why she disagrees or just says that Dr. Beck misses the point of Catholic social teaching. She simply asserts that Dr. Beck is wrong. I am sorry, but I believe that Dr. Beck has provided a very cogent assessment of the issues which is carefully written and is recommending an approach that is more moral, more just and provides for a greater level of well being for the society as a whole. All of which should make it very compatible with Catholic social teaching.

The terms "social justice" and "common good" have a checkered history because they essentially means nothing. They have been used by proponents to defend whatever their personal political preferences are as opposed to some rigorous standard of justice or common good. As such they can mean whatever one wants to define as socially just and good for society.

Dr. Beck's article and Ms. Clark's response are a positive addition to America as the readers can hopefully see a cordial and rational discussion of these very important topics. I hope we continue to see both sides of discussions presented as a policy here at America.

Eva Weber | 4/30/2013 - 10:30am

Just Economics is a classic example of brilliance without justice, humanity, or Christianity.

All the perfect semantics displayed in any argument, need be in harmony with the teachings and example of Jesus, to qualifay as Christian

Vincent Gaitley | 4/29/2013 - 8:46pm

So, what time is it Prof. Clark? Are we not prosperous? When has the world been just? At least at this time most people have a measure of material well being, especially in the West. In the East, China has gone from stupid Communist penury to overwhelming prosperity--about to surpass America--in under a generation. Despite the hypocrisy, China did this with capitalism, not with socialism. If they can do it, so can others. The Catholic Church has a poor record in lifting up the poor. South America and Mexico lagged behind North America due to the lack of free enterprise and personal liberty. The Church and the many States repressed free markets to the point of revolution with tragic consequences.
Markets work, and free markets work better, but all markets take time and deliberate effort--effort to produce, and effort to restrain government (there is no greed like government greed). Again, platitudes and liberal posturing about social justice (whatever that is) don't feed anyone. Work, saving, investment do. Knowledge about money helps enormously: accounting; profits; bank accounts; compound interest; private property; rule of law; personal enterprise, and the hardest thing for the poor to achieve--capital formation. These are educable concepts that are missing in the minds of the poor, and the nations of the poorest. Not one of these is a disputable theological point, and are common to the well-to-do. Pennies don't come from heaven, and while there's no requirement to get rich, no person need be poor.
The Church has always supported private property (especially for itself) and now needs to add liberty to the formula: personal liberty and property lead to free markets, and those markets reward the dignity and creativity of work with profit--money to support a family, raise children, subscribe to America, etc.
Government promises from both parties are mere ploys to gain votes and power; those ploys take the form of self serving policies that make gimmicks out of taxation. We are free because the government is not (or so it was). When that coercive power is finally restrained, then we can be truly prosperous because our power as free people should not and must not be oppressed--that's social justice too.

Tim Huegerich | 4/29/2013 - 7:23pm

I have my own critiques of Stacie Beck's essay, both as an economist and as a Catholic. But I'll leave that (mostly) for elsewhere and focus on some questions for you, Meghan. (When economists and social justice advocates speak past each other like this, it physically hurts me, like different parts of my insides are shouting angrily at each other.)

1. I agree that Beck largely "misses the heart of Catholic social teaching," but I don't understand what you are claiming is "logically inconsistent" about her assumptions. Could you clarify?

2. I agree that there is "a Christian responsibility to build a social order based upon justice," but I also agree that "the goals of social justice assume a society prosperous enough to support them." Why do you juxtapose these statements as if they are opposed to each other? (In fact, you reveal your own interest in reconciling the two when you claim "food stamps (or SNAP), unemployment insurance, and the earned income tax credit are all...effective economic policies which spur the economy.")

3. While Caritas in Veritate does state "I cannot “give” what is mine to the other, without first giving him what pertains to him in justice," Benedict's emphasis seems to be on subverting the usual dualism between charity and justice: "[justice] is not an alternative or parallel path to charity: justice is inseparable from charity, and intrinsic to it" and "Charity...gives theological and salvific value to all commitment for justice in the world." So, are you referring to paragraph 6 of Caritas in Veritate or something else in support of your claim that "the need for justice cannot be answered by increasing charity"?

4. Anyway, would you really be opposed to a society in which church communities give what pertains to everyone in justice? Imagine with me a flowering of church communities so proactive and generous about reaching out to all that everyone really does have more than enough to eat, secure access to quality health care (through charitable support of doctors and hospitals), gratuitous employers eager to mentor people lacking work, and so on. Would you really say, "Stop! We need to do this through the government!"?

(That is, why not concede the point that more charity would be good? Such is no argument against government action, given the world we currently live in. Anyway, Beck's argument *is* logically inconsistent when she calls for private generosity toward those in need - since she has just claimed that fear of personal poverty is necessary to motivate work and has left herself no way to distinguish asking for help from "rent-seeking" - so why not point that out? Don't let libertarians pretend like they are Catholic Workers.)

Meghan Clark | 4/29/2013 - 8:36pm

Tim,
Thank you for your comments. Let me begin by addressing your last point. Would more charity, more active Christian communities engaging their neighbors be good? Of course. However, Dr. Beck explicitly juxtaposes charity and social justice in her article. She does so in the same way many in public debate assume and cry out for charity and Churches as the answer in opposition to government programs (Paul Ryan is a clear example). According to David Beckmann, President of Bread for the World, 94% of the "feeding hungry people" suffering from food insecurity in this country is done by government programs - specifically WIC, FOOD STAMPS, and School Lunches. All of the amazing and necessary work done by our food banks and our churches - our charities only accounts for 6%. More charitable activity is great, but it does not get us out of the problem of structural injustice and the very basic reality that school lunches is a program that MUST be done by civil government. If we successfully eliminated social sin and accomplished equality of opportunity - then charity would be enough; however, we are quite far from basic justice in our society being accomplished. This is emphasized by Benedict XVI, in Caritas in Veritate (getting to your 3rd point) in response to those who interpreted Deus Caritas Est as vindicating the problematic lens Dr. Beck began with. Benedict corrects those interpretations making clear - we cannot practice charity if we are not just towards neighbor...the implications of this are quite radical if we look at what charity we do claim/practice within our current state of injustice and inequality.

Now to the economic questions....I appreciate an economist responding! I am the daughter of an economist and that is a large part of why I am a moral theologian specializing in social ethics. Dr. Beck, throughout her article, uses economic concepts in ways that simply are not born out in empirical research. It is the ideology which helped create the global financial crisis and didn't see it coming - as even Alan Greenspan was forced to admit - because it wasn't possible within their worldview. Study after Study (at the top I recommend the Spirit Level by Wilkinson and Pickett) is examining and demonstrating the devastating effects of current inequality, which has been progressively growing for 30 years. Wages and productivity are not linked as she claims, workers are far more productive now but wages have stagnated. Perhaps the greatest problem in the article, Dr. Beck takes data concerning the Millennium Development Goals and extreme poverty (Goal 1) in Sub Saharan africa and super imposes its results as if it states something for how to analyze social welfare programs in advanced economies like the United States.

The issue of "prosperity" again is perhaps a "chicken and egg" question - it isn't a matter of reconciling SNAP. SNAP is an effective anti-poverty program that also is a successful economic program. Social justice, and Catholic social teaching, (and the entire Human Rights Project) presuppose that we can work to order society, on all its levels, based upon a basic level of justice in which everyone's basic needs are met. That is a very different understanding of prosperity than the constant reference to profits and monetary prosperity in Dr. Beck's article.

Ultimately, the ideological commitments of Dr.Beck's article are incompatible with the Catholic understanding of the human person. Homo Economicus is inconsistent and incompatible with the Catholic theology of the human person.

Tim Huegerich | 4/29/2013 - 10:42pm

Meghan, thank you for your response. Let me first say that I appreciate your ability to quickly form a response to Beck's piece. I myself was left reeling and it will probably take me days to work out a coherent response. For me, she thoroughly mixes some good and important criticisms with some outrageous misunderstandings that will prevent those criticisms from being heard. (For instance, I agree that she "uses economic concepts in ways that simply are not born out in empirical research" - in the three ways that you mention above, but I'm afraid your references/phrasing are not the kind that will be persuasive to my colleagues.)

That said, is it fair to summarize your responses to my questions this (somewhat cheeky) way?
1. You have not given an example of Beck's logical inconsistency, only said she is inconsistent with some other principles she does not accept.
2. Your opposition ("No") to Beck's phrase was mainly due to a discomfort with the word "prosperity." (I would note for the record that she only refers to "profits" once, and in a negative way.)
3. You were referring to #6 in Caritatis in Veritate (and I see your point more clearly now).
4. You would not be opposed to justice being achieved through charity, except for the case of schools, in which case you would be opposed to all schools being private.

Meghan Clark | 4/29/2013 - 11:48pm

Thanks for your comments -

I do want to clearly say that I am in favor of charitable activities (and charity ultimately is a virtue aimed at union with God and Neighbor); however, I do not accept that you can achieve justice through charity. by the virtues - justice must be present for your actions to count as the virtue of charity...it may be an act of charity (which really is almsgiving but often how our culture uses the term - which is why Benedict focuses on it -b/ci ts being reduced to simply one aspect...if you are interested in this line - I have published 2 articles on charity/justice - 1 academic 1 popular on this which can be found on academia.edu). In particular, when we are talking about social sin (such as the cumulative effects of racism, poverty, sexism), you cannot achieve justice through charity.

I see now what you are trying to get at in terms of my choice of logical inconsistency - I think her piece as a whole is an example of it - at its root, my theological critique is that the piece and its foundations are logically inconsistent with Catholic theology itself, which presumably she holds as her starting point is complaints about the "social justice agenda" in the 4th Grade catechism text she is teaching from. Scratching the surface of the economic ideology - however - one quickly finds inconsistencies in rational economic man based theories and actual reality.

My opposition isn't simply to her brief reference to profits but the entire characterization of a prosperous society and then application of it to the "social justice agenda."

Yes, you may be right that my phrasings may not be persuasive to your colleagues - as I am countering with a theological argument. If I were engaging your colleagues, who are not Christian, I would rely more heavily on the work of Amartya Sen, Joseph Stiglitz, Jamie Gailbraith, and others. However, if they are Christian or more specifically Catholic, and the phrasing doesn't resonate then there is I think a deeper problem in terms of integration...that I think is characteristic of American culture in particular - individualistic compartmentalizing of religion and other aspects of life, of public and private squares.

Hope you post your critique when you articulate it - I'd be interested to read it.

Robert Klahn | 5/1/2013 - 8:29pm

"I see now what you are trying to get at in terms of my choice of logical inconsistency - I think her piece as a whole is an example of it - at its root, my theological critique is that the piece and its foundations are logically inconsistent with Catholic theology itself, which presumably she holds as her starting point is complaints about the "social justice agenda" in the 4th Grade catechism text she is teaching from. "

My non-theological critique is that her economics are developed from study of straw men, and her evaluation of humanity, esp the poor, is patronizing to a disturbing extent.

She divides the human race between the noble and successful, and the ignoble and poor. Sorry, it ain't so. The distribution of wealth is not to make the poor rich, but to enable them to survive. Poverty is accompanied by hunger and disease. In a society where opportunity is a commodity in decline the only agency able to act effectively enough to turn things around is the government. Demonizing the poor is not going to produce any desirable results in this situation.

Tim Huegerich | 4/30/2013 - 10:12am

Thanks again. I will check out your article. (Ooh, a Vincentian connection! I've been really blessed by involvement in the SVDP Society.)

"I think a deeper problem in terms of integration..." Amen. I thank you (and your dad) for your work. And thank you for your interest in my thoughts. Let's see if I can write something more constructive than my critical comments above.

Vincent Gaitley | 4/29/2013 - 9:08pm

According to you every wealthy American Catholic is incompatible with the Catholic theology of the human person. So what if there's inequality in wages? There always has been! Recently due to the weakness and indebtedness of the US dollar and government, the dollar is actually worth less. Monetary and fiscal policy have destroyed the value of the dollar.

If Dr. Beck is wrong, the Jesuits should immediately close every business school at their colleges. What do you think they are teaching? Accounting, marketing, investing, management, trade, law, property, enterprise are the subjects of study and the only real tools to eliminate poverty. Wonder why the Latin American Catholic Church is losing members to evangelical churches and other denominations? A better Jesus? No, a richer life, belief in the possibility of self reliance, without Marx or Jesuits. The Church has often preached a living wage without paying one. Capitalism is about using your head, your gifts and talents, and taking care of yourself and family. It is unsentimental in its purest form, and while that terrifies liberals it liberates everyone else from the false prophets in politics and pulpits. Why does Dr Beck's discussion of earning your own way, making money, building financial independence undo the minds of the social justice set?

Meghan Clark | 4/29/2013 - 9:49pm

I do not think you understand my point about the human person. For Catholicism and by extension Catholic social teaching, the human person is created in the image and likeness of God, this means that he or she as well as the human community has an inviolable dignity and worth. It also notices that community is central to the human person - we are social and we are interdependent, our well being is tied to each other. The God of Christianity is Triune - 3 persons in 1 God, thus it is not just that each person has dignity but the one human family does, which is why the Catholic understanding of the common good is not utilitarian and cannot be achieved by violating the dignity of even 1 human person.

For mainstream neo-classical economics, the human person is rational economic man (homo economicus) which is the assumption that economic actors are only motivated by their own narrowly defined self interest. This does not concern for others, even ones' family as rational until Gary Becker expands it to include family, using self-interest as the primary motivator within the family. According to 19th century economist Edgeworth "the first principle of economics is that every agent is actuated only by self interest."

The assumption of rational economic man assumes / requires that people have perfect foresight, know and always make the best decision - effectively making man into God. this is just not an accurate view of how humans are in any actual economy. And one cannot reduce human persons to their economic activity. It is a view that all Christians must reject, but it is also a view that one must reject within any real economy. It is a view that many of the great economists rejected such as Keynes, and contemporary nobel prize winner Amartya Sen.

I would hope that Jesuit business schools are teaching students to engage the actual economies that students will enter. I also hope that Jesuit business schools are doing something different than the University of Chicago - they are concerned about the whole person - educating men and women for are and with others - the mission of all Jesuit education.

Vincent Gaitley | 4/30/2013 - 1:06am

That you hope Jesuit business schools prepare students for the "actual economies that students will enter" was my point exactly. Those economies (actually one economy) aren't Catholic, Christian, or based on any religious sense of social justice, thank God. The University of Chicago rightly prepare students for competitive markets--so do Harvard, Yale, Columbia, etc. I bet each believes they are interested in the whole person.

Rational economic man does not make a god of himself. Rational self interest is quite benign, and needs no perfection, indeed, it is often said, "perfection is the enemy of the good". Every economist knows that markets aren't perfect, but they are better at allocating goods and services than any other mechanism. Nor is government the perfecter of markets, either. Life is unfair and imperfect, rather like love--and that is a good thing. The imbalance motivates us in good and bad ways. Mostly, I think in good ways.
Nothing I wrote suggests a utilitarian view of the human person. I've written elsewhere on America's blogs that the Catholic sense of economics needs updating, and that the theologians have no expertise in wealth building. The Church preaches a view of economics based on a crabbed 16th century view, desperate to avoid anything that smacks of protestantism and self-reliance. Well, there is real competition in the human family.
And poverty today is not as impoverished as 100 years ago. As long as the social justice teachings remain sticky with meaningless prescriptions for the poor, they will stay poor. Just as theologians meddled badly in science generations ago using Scripture to interpret the natural world, it seems that theologians today are meddling in economics and business (different things) with predictably poor results.
Jesus redeemed the human person, but he never had a job, ran a business, made payroll, or sold a product. While He "preferred the poor", he did little if anything to end their material deficiencies. Indeed, Jesus was run out of a village after drowning the Gadarene swineherd--folks depended upon those pigs! (Matthew 8) Christ could have dispensed with the demoniacs any possible way, yet he killed without compensation the livelihood of many. Why? Not that JC couldn't be generous: you know that the Kingdom of Heaven is like a vineyard where the landowner pays a days wage whether or not you worked a full day. (Matthew 20) One gets the lesson not to envy and to be generous, but I've never worked for that company. That landowner justifies his generosity in part by asking, "Am I not free to do as I wish with my own money?" My Jesuit educated Republican pro-life soul loves that landowner and the Christ who was proud of him.

Greg Redford | 5/14/2013 - 3:57pm

Mr. Gaitley:

I have been fortunate enough to attend both an ivy league business school (Columbia) and a Jesuit school of theology. Columbia does not understand itself to be educating the whole person. And, I suspect this is true of other business schools as well; in fact, I believe I can say this with confidence.

However, this is not a blemish on their achievements. Many of the business schools provide a fine to excellent education in business, finance, and management. I am certainly grateful for my education and experience at Columbia. But, it simply is not in the mandate of business schools to educate the whole person, in the sense the Jesuits would understand this, and in the sense that might be required to reform our economic system in order that it integrates principles of social justice, theoretically and operationally.

Could students in an M.B.A. program benefit from a course or two in moral philosophy that probes at the issues of ethics in a more foundational way than most traditional business ethics curriculum? Yes, absolutely. What a radical idea: M.B.A. students at Harvard, Columbia, and others, studying Plato, Aristotle, Nietzsche, and Aquinas, alongside Smith, Keynes, Modigliani, and Miller. But, if the sort of reform conceived above is to be achieved, there is a broader, more prolonged exercise of personal formation required. This kind of project can not be accomplished by a couple courses appended to a traditional business school experience. The project needs to start earlier than when students are in their late twenties and early thirties, and it needs to be a more central aspect of the education experience.

Vincent Gaitley | 5/14/2013 - 5:18pm

If you read my remarks again you'll note that I said, "I bet those schools believe they are interested in the whole person." No doubt graduate business schools are specialized, and some too narrowly focused to study Plato and company--that's a shame, but those schools are not required to prepare business people in philosophy or theology; however, what school of theology or philosophy teaches business? My point has always been that the Church preaches a criticism of business without any expertise in the field at all--and economics is not business, mind you. The poor don't need lectures on Catholic social teaching, they need lessons in business.

Greg Redford | 5/15/2013 - 12:18am

Catholic social teaching is broader than alleviating poverty. It promotes the fundamental values of Christ: love, peace, freedom, and justice (Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church, § 63).

Moreover, not all people who are poor find themselves in those circumstances because they lack some requisite business knowledge. It could be they do not enjoy the freedom provided by a stable and consistent legal system that protects private rights and is quite necessary for business activity. Or, it could be they are female and come from a country where that gender is treated unjustly, relative to opportunities provided to males for education, employment, etc.

The “lectures” are for the affluent within the Church, not for the poor, I think. Yet, they are not exhortations for people to give away all of their possessions. Again, this is my opinion. The model of St. Francis of Assisi is a good and holy exemplar of Christian faith. It is something to take inspiration from and find courage in. However, I am not sure it is the required measure of personal faith. God help me if it is.

I don’t know about your criticism of the Church, as preaching a criticism of business. Your depiction of what the Church preaches is not consistent with my read of Gaudium et Spes, Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church, Fides et Ratio, etc. But, where any economic system or mode of business conduct diminishes the values of love, peace, freedom, and justice, it is proper and appropriate the Church, including you and me, criticize those systems and work toward improving them. To be a member of the Church is to be united in Christ, which means promoting the values of Christ.

We are all pilgrims and sojourners. Good luck with your journey.

Charles Clark | 4/30/2013 - 9:24am

Actually, Mr. Gaitley, if you are supporting the "rational economic man" model you are necessarily promoting a utilitarian view of the human person. The problem is that most economists have very little understanding of the philosophical foundations upon which neoclassical economics has been built. Most programs do not even teach the history of economics, so that economists Theory of Moral Sentiments. The individualism/self reliance gospel is contrary to Christianity, for it assumes you are only responsible for yourself. You might not like it, but Jesus taught otherwise. It is also bad economics. All economic actions are cooperative and we are wealthy only because we are in wealthy communities or structures that give us a large incomes. No one creates wealth by themselves. In fact, wealth can be created in two ways: by increasing the productivity of the community (this is good and we want to support this as a society) or by shifting costs on to others and grabbing more benefits for yourself (also called rent seeking). While many rich people have done the first, all really rich people and companies have to have done the second to get really rich. If we had competitive markets, inequalities would decline not increase. The rise in inequality in the past three decades is from changing the rules to benefit capital over labor, just as the decrease in inequality from the 30s to the 70s was mostly because of a change in rules to support workers (New Deal).

'Jesus ... never had a job, ran a business, made payroll, or sold a product" Seriously. I guess "Through him all things were made" isn't enough for you. God's gift of creation, I guess, isn't as meaningful as selling parts of creation to others.

Vincent Gaitley | 4/30/2013 - 10:40am

Yes, seriously Mr. Clark. God's gift of creation is not an economic plan. Nor was creation a job. That's the point, that God needs nothing, but we do. To fill those needs we create wealth. If that remark bothers you, well, sometimes it is worth looking at matters with a fresh eye. Christ healed the sick with miracles, not medicine. Medicine is the human action. And economics is all about human action. What does the absence of economic activity say about Christ and Christians? Since we use Jesus as an example for nearly all things, it is worth pointing out what he didn't do, since his actions are still debated and the meaning of his words parsed. The laity has a unique role here, we must fill in the blank with work. Christ didn't leave us the formula for penicillin (one supposes he could have). So, while he comforted the sick, and healed some, he didn't cure everyone, nor rid creation of disease. He left matters, ahem, unequal. Finding the cures, food, homes, cars, toys, clothes, and all other human things is entirely up to us.

Charles Clark | 5/1/2013 - 9:43am

Mr Gaitley:

Catholic social thought is not an economic theory, nor does it provide an economic model. It establishes principles based on the Gospels and 2000 of the Catholic intellectual tradition. One of these principles is that each person, made in the image and likeness of God, has inherent dignity. That means that each person is an end and not a means to an end. This does not mean that markets are bad. It does mean that human dignity has to be respected and protected when we construct the rules by which markets are structured. Neoclassical economic theory, especially its theory of rational economic man, teaches that we are supposed to treat others as means to our ends. Markets can be structured to protect human dignity (there are many examples of this) or to attack human dignity (this is true for all human institutions). The principles of CST inform this human activity, making it more human. Human things are up to us (though not entirely) but they will always be informed by our values, and these have been based down to us by Jesus. And it is our responsibility to live these values. And while you can pick you favorite products from your favorite large corporations, as Christians we do not get to pick our values. Once we do, we cease being followers of Jesus.

And making markets more human, the evidence clearly shows, makes them more efficient. It is contrary to the empirical evidence to suggest that promoting fairness hurts the economy. It does, however, hurt those that benefit from unfair rules (more rent seeking activity). It turns out, applying the principles of CST to economic actions leads to better economic outcomes.